developing thick skin

Developing Thick Skin

In Career by Punita Rice

Last year, I started writing a little bit about topics that are (apparently) up for debate, including this op-ed in The Baltimore Sun about the travel ban, that, all things considered, isn’t really even that polarizing (in fact, I took an extremely moderate stance — no pun intended), and YET, I got some strong reactions (including some polite emails expressing disagreement, and a handful of decidedly less polite messages via twitter, like “GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY!” because, you know… the internet) to it. And it got me thinking about thick skin.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • It’s not that offensive when people respectfully share disagreement. After the op-ed came out, I got some emails from people respectfully expressing their perspectives. (I responded, and in two cases, actually had some quality conversations.)
  • It’s also not that offensive when people send ridiculous / hateful messages on Twitter (including the occasional *%#& you! message) because some people are just idiots, and it isn’t really about you, KWIM?

But then again, I wasn’t getting that much hate. I wasn’t speaking about controversial things on national tv or something, so it’s easy for me to talk about not getting offended easily about people’s reactions. But the people who do go on tv and share polarizing viewpoints do get a lot of hate. Like Dr. Wendy Osefo.

Dr. Osefo is a professor at Hopkins (where I’m an adviser), and she provides liberal commentary on some of the most conservative leaning shows and segments on Fox, which is already conservative leaning station. She definitely deals with plenty of ignorant and hateful commentary from all kinds of people. So I reached out to Dr. O and I asked her for her advice to other women* on “developing thick skin” when speaking their opinions in a space populated by those at odds with their point of view.

*I said women rather than people, because while men with polarizing stances are also attacked for their viewpoints, I think that women are disproportionately targeted; especially women of color.

Here’s what she had to say:

“There is not one single answer. It is hard to do work when you are met by naysayers and those who for no other reason but to be confrontational decide to undermine you.

I would say that the best response is success. Keep forging forward, keep building momentum around your issue, and keep advancing. That is the best way to silence critics.

People will ALWAYS question you and try to deter you, but you have to remain focused and know that what you are doing has a far greater purpose then any one person’s opinion.”

(Here’s another post with more great advice from Dr. O).

P.S. – Here’s the original post about the op-ed in The Baltimore Sun, and here’s a post about Apu, and why he sucks, for The Establishment.

About the Author

Punita Rice

Punita Rice is the founder of the resource-hub, and author of the research book "South Asian American Experiences in Schools: Brown Voices from the Classroom" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), the children's book series "The Adventures of Hunny & Sunny," and "Toddler Weaning." She holds a Doctorate in Education from Johns Hopkins University, and is a former classroom teacher, academic adviser, and researcher. She lives in Maryland.